Tikkun in Lurianic Kabbalah

In contemporary parlance, tikkun olam refers to repairing the earthly world in which we live but in Luria's teachings, complete tikkun would undo the world we know.

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"Primordial Man"

Following this, a third element, a ray from God's hidden essence (Ein Sof) entered the empty space and acted upon the existing mixture of reshimu and Din. This illuminating ray serves as a permanent link between Ein Sof and the empty space. The form of the divine produced by this first ray of light is termed the "Primordial Man" (Adam Qadmon). The latter is described with vivid anthropomorphic detail.

The lights shining from Adam Qadmon's "ears," "nose," and "mouth" constituted a collective or perfectly unified structure. But the light issuing from the "eyes" emanated in a different manner. They were atomized or separated into different sefirot so as to require their containment in special vessels or qelim.

The Breaking of the Vessels: Broken Shards and Holy Sparks

These vessels, composed of a "thicker" light, were to serve as "shells" for the purer light. In the process of emanation, however, some of these vessels were unable to contain the fight within them, and consequently shattered under the pressure, scattering themselves into the empty space. This event is known in the Lurianic texts as "shevirat ha-qelim," or the "breaking of the vessels."

In the wake of this event, most of the light that had been contained in the vessels returned to their divine source, while the remainder fell below into the empty space and attached themselves to the now broken shards of vessels. From these shards of broken vessels the powers of the qelipot, that is, "husks" or "shells" were produced. These are the evil forces of the "other side," the sitra ahra.

In addition to constituting the source of evil, the broken shards are also the basis for the material world. The sparks of light that failed to return to their source above remained trapped, as it were, among the qelipot. The qelipot, in turn, are constantly nourished and strengthened by the holy sparks attached to them. Indeed, were it not for these sparks, the qelipot would lose their life and power altogether.

Adam Could Have Fixed It All

The challenge which Lurianic teaching now faced was to determine how to mend the injury suffered by the Godhead. Tikkun refers to the processes by which restoration and repair were to be accomplished. They constitute the greatest part of Lurianic theory and are complex in the extreme.

According to Lurianic teaching, the soul of the first man, Adam, was composed of all the various "worlds" or levels of divine reality, and was intended to extricate and reintegrate the divine sparks that remained within the qelipot. When Adam was created, the cosmic process of tikkun had virtually been completed.

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Dr. Lawrence Fine

Lawrence Fine, Ph.D., teaches Jewish studies at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of Safed Spirituality (Paulist Press) and Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship (Stanford University Press).